On the twelfth day of Christmas

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  • UnaLee Thoenig was in charge of the kitchen, cooking as they did in the 1800s. 

  • Visitors were able to take a look at the various rooms in the Coursen Homestead on Twelfth Night. 

  • Books at the in the Coursen Homestead.  During research in advance of the Bicentennial, it was noted that the name "Fredon" may have been derived from the word "freedom."

  • Don Thoenig as the Twelfth Night Mistral.  (Photos by Laurie Gordon).

By Laurie Gordon

“On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...”

Most would finish this line with “Twelve drummers drumming,” but not at the Coursen Homestead. There, on Saturday, “twelve Keepers keeping” was better suited.

The Keepers of Coursen's Corners host Twelfth Night each year, when they dress in period clothing and regale tales of old, educating the community about what life was like in the 1800s. Don Thoenig, dressed in a top hat adorned with holly and old fashioned garb, and wandered around the homestead regaling those in attendance with songs. Though he added “We Three Kings of Orient Are” to his repertoire this year to commemorate the arrival of the three kings as the reason to celebrate Twelfth Night, the audience got a hoot out of his rendition of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”

“I look forward to being the mistral every year,” Thoenig said. “This celebration is a great way to show people what things were like in the olden days and they always seem to leave with a new appreciation.”

To underscore the importance of retaining history, Thoenig has created a coloring book detailing many of the rooms in the Coursen Homestead. He also makes upside-down cards each year which he sells to help raise funds to support the Keepers Coursen's Corners efforts. The cards appear to depict something when held one way, and yet appear as something completely different when turned upside down.

Thoenig's wife, UnaLee, is in charge of the kitchen, where the focal point is an enormous hearth from which cast iron pots over the fire, where cooking is done as it was in the 1800s.

“I found a cookbook online from 1851 so am using some of those recipes,” UnaLee Thoenig said. “The recipes are Dutch and that was the origin of the family that once lived here.”

The alluring aroma of several meat and vegetarian dishes wafted throughout the house from the kitchen as visitors toured the various rooms, all restored.

“This event and the others we do during the year bring something unique to the community,” said Ginny Richardson, who co-founded the Keepers of Coursen's Corners with the late Ginny Wask.

The Coursen House was built about 1805. It contained four rooms on the first floor with a chimney across the corner of two rooms. There were three bedrooms on the second floor. The kitchen, located on the southern end of the house, had a large bake oven to the right of the chimney. Isaac Coursen added a first-floor parlor and two additional bedrooms upstairs as the family grew.

The home stands next to Lodestar Park in Fredon. For information or to arrange a tour, contact Richardson at 973-579-1490 or visit the website https://coursenscorners.wixsite.com/coursenscorners.

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